The I, the Y and the J Posted by Bjørn A. Bojesen on Apr 21, 2013 in Language, Pronunciation
Norsk er lett å stave. Norwegian is easy to spell. For learners being used to the quirks of English spelling (why on earth is ”weemen” spelt with an o?), the Norwegian system may seem like a godsend: You write things more or less like they sound: sjåfør (chauffeur), miljø (milieu; environment). Fortunately, there are still some utfordringer (challenges) for that geeky part of your hjerne (brain). Among them are
The sj sound and the kj sound
- Sj sounds like the English sh of shoe: sju (”shoo”, seven).
- Kj sounds like the h- of huge (as pronounced in England, that is, ”hyuge”): kjære (”hyare”, dear). The exact sound doesn’t really exist in English, but it’s typical of German: Ich liebe dich.
The two sounds are sometimes confused, so that the names Kjell and Shell (the oil company) are both pronounced ”Sjell”. Unless you really want to upset educated Norwegians, I wouldn’t recommend that you copy this ”trend”. 🙂
The bad things is that these two sounds are written in several different ways, so you really have to memorize the spelling of each word where one of them occurs:
- The sj sound can be written as:
- sj: sjokolade (chocolate)
- skj: skjold (shield)
- sk: ski (”shee”, skis)
- g in a couple of words of French origin: geni (”shehNEE”, genious)
- j in a couple of words of French origin: journalist (”shoornaLIST”)
- The kj sound can be written as:
- kj: kjeks (biscuit)
- k: kylling (chicken)
There is a bit of logic here: The letter j does not normally appear in front of i or y (save in a few words such as jypling, greenhorn, and sjiraff, giraffe). And the letter k and the combo sk usually have their normal, ”hard” pronunciation in front of vowels other than i or y, such as skole (”SKOHleh”, school) and Kari [KAHree]. So, to indicate a ”soft” pronunciation in such words, a j is inserted: skjold [sholl], Kjartan [HYARtan]. In front of i and y these sounds are naturally ”soft”, so the j would be superfluos: kino [”HYEE-noh”, cinema), skyte (”SHEE-teh”, to shoot).
A similar system is used for the letter g. It is pronounced ”y-” (as in yet) in front of i and y, but ”g-” everywhere else – unless it is followed by a j. So, gi (give), gyte (spawn) and gjøre (do) all start with the same sound as English yellow.
If this seems confusing, maybe this little verse, which I learnt at school, will help:
I-en og y-en
gikk på byen
så møtte de j-en
men ville ikke se’en.
The I and the Y
went to town
then they met the J
but didn’t want to see ’im.
Here’s a soundfile of it: iyj